Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Information Access by Design: Electronic Guidelines for Librarians

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Information Access by Design: Electronic Guidelines for Librarians

Article excerpt

Traditionally, librarians have not been trained in graphic design. However, with the proliferation of the World Wide Web and the concept of librarian as educator, librarians are being called upon with increasing frequency to design Web pages and electronic educational materials. The author presents basic design principles as they relate to the development of the user interface. Design areas covered are line, shape, type, texture, balance, contrast, unity, value, and color. Illustrations are used to provide the reader with visual applications of the design principles as they relate to library applications.

The World Wide Web has become a household term; it is no longer the exclusive domain of researchers. With this widespread use of the Web has come the proliferation of Web sites, including academic library sites. The construction of library sites and electronic instructional materials has rarely gone to professional designers, but instead has become part of "other duties as assigned" for technically savvy librarians. In a comparison of forty higher education home pages, Stover and Zink have concluded that many library home pages are poorly designed.(1) They further suggest that the poor design may be from a "lack of knowledge of hypermedia and a sketchy, emerging literature pertaining to Web page design principles."(2) For most librarians, design classes were not part of the library school curriculum. However, these electronic products require attention to design principles if the information is to be effectively conveyed to the user on a Web site or in instructional media. The principles presented here apply to both print and electronic media; however, this article focuses on design principles as they relate to the user interface.

The interface is the means by which the user gains access to the information contained within the program. The user interface should be intuitive, almost invisible to the user. Consider the analogy of using a fork to eat. Most people are unaware of how they hold their fork and the motions necessary to successfully pick up a piece of food. The motions are carried out without conscious regard for the fork. In designing the user interface, the designer attempts to bring this type of transparency to the screen. The interface should not hamper the user or provide unnecessary distractions from the tool itself.

Basic Design Elements

Design elements (line, shape, typography, and texture) are combined with design principles (balance, contrast, unity, color, and value) to convey ideas and information to the user. The appropriate use of these elements strengthens the design and facilitates access to the information. Conversely, the inappropriate use of these elements can frustrate and confuse the user. Peterson suggests considering the design process as having the shape of a diamond.(3) Beginning at the top of the diamond with an idea, one progresses toward the bottom by adding in design elements. The widest points of the diamond contain all the possible design elements that aid in the communication of the information. Deleting unnecessary items--keeping only those items crucial to the presentation of the information--brings the designer to the other end of the diamond. Peterson recommends that the best designs are done with the fewest elements necessary to communicate the idea.


The line is the simplest of the design elements, yet it can convey feeling and strengthen a message depending on its placement and type. Lines come in a wide variety of styles and sizes and with each one comes a particular mood. Horizontal lines are typically used to denote a feeling of peacefulness and rest. On the other hand, vertical lines represent activity, while lines at an angle tend to add tension and a sense of urgency to the design. Curved lines provide the illusion of movement. Lines can also be used as an organizational tool. They can be used to separate information or to join related information. …

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